EN 102 Standard reading response
Standard reading response
1. Passing, Nella Larsen
Part 1, Chapter 1
2. Passing, Nela Larsen
- What type of literature is it?
- What is the point of view?
- Identify the theme(s)
- Write a thesis statement
- Create a list of words you don’t recognize
- Define them through context / dictionary / Web
- Finish with a two-line interpretation
Part 1: Encounter
It was the last letter in Irene Redfield’s little pile of morning mail. After her other ordinary and clearly directed letters the long envelope of thin Italian paper with its almost illegible scrawl seemed out of place and alien. And there was, too, something mysterious and slightly furtive about it. A thin sly thing which bore no return address to betray the sender. Not that she hadn’t immediately known who its sender was. Some two years ago she had one very like it in outward appearance. Furtive, but yet in some peculiar, determined way a little flaunting. Purple ink. Foreign paper of extraordinary size.
It had been, Irene noted, postmarked in New York the day before. Her brows came together in a tiny frown. The frown, however, was more from perplexity than from annoyance; though there was in her thoughts an element of both. She was wholly unable to comprehend such an attitude towards danger as she was sure the letter’s contents would reveal; and she disliked the idea of opening and reading it.
This, she reflected, was of a piece with all that she knew of Clare Kendry. Stepping always on the edge of danger. Always aware, but not drawing back or turning aside. Certainly not because of any alarms or feeling of outrage on the part of others.
And for a swift moment Irene Redfield seemed to see a pale small girl sitting on a ragged blue sofa, sewing pieces of bright red cloth together, while her drunken father, a tall, powerfully built man, raged threateningly up and down the shabby room, bellowing curses and making spasmodic lunges at her which were not the less frightening because they were, for the most part. Ineffectual. Sometimes he did manage to reach her. But only the fact that the child had edged herself and her poor sewing over to the farthermost corner of the sofa suggested that she was in any way perturbed by this menace to herself and her work.
Clare had known well enough that it was unsafe to take a portion of the dollar that was her weekly wage for the doing of many errands for the dressmaker who lived on the top floor of the building of which Bob Kendry was janitor. But that knowledge had not deterred her. She wanted to go to her Sunday school’s picnic, and she had made up her mind to wear a new dress. So, In spite of certain unpleasant- ness and possible danger, she had taken the money to buy the material for that pathetic little red frock.
There had been, even In those days, nothing sacrificial In Clare Kendry’s Idea of life, no allegiance beyond her own Immediate desire. She was selfish, and cold, and hard. And yet she had, too, a strange capacity of transforming warmth and passion, verging sometimes almost on theatrical heroics.
Irene, who was a year or more older than Clare, remembered the day that Bob Kendry had been brought home dead, killed in a silly saloon-fight. Clare, who was at that time a scant fifteen years old, had just stood there with her lips pressed together, her thin arms folded across her narrow chest, staring down at the familiar pasty-white face of her parent with a sort of disdain in her slanting black eyes. For a very long time she had stood like that, silent and staring. Then, quite suddenly, she had given way to a torrent of weeping, swaying her thin body, tearing at her bright hair, and stamping her small feet. The outburst had ceased as suddenly as it had begun. She glanced quickly about the bare room, taking everyone in, even the two policemen, in a sharp look of flashing scorn. And, in the next instant, she had turned and vanished through the door.
Seen across the long stretch of years, the thing had more the appearance of an outpouring of pent-up fury than of an overflow of grief for her dead father; though she had been, Irene admitted, fond enough of him in her own rather catlike way.
Catlike. Certainly that was the word which best described Clare Kendry, if any single word could describe her. Sometimes she was hard and apparently without feeling at all; sometimes she was affectionate and rashly impulsive. And there was about her an amazing soft malice, hidden well away until provoked. Then she was capable of scratching, and very effectively too. Or, driven to anger, she would fight with a ferocity and impetuousness that disregarded or forgot any danger; superior strength, numbers, or other unfavourable circumstances. How savagely she had clawed those boys the day they had hooted her parent and sung a derisive rhyme, of their own composing, which pointed out certain eccentricities in his careening gait! And how deliberately she had –
Irene brought her thoughts back to the present, to the letter from Clare Kendry that she still held unopened in her hand. With a little feeling of apprehension, she very slowly cut the envelope, drew out the folded sheets, spread them, and began to read.
It was, she saw at once, what she had expected since learning from the postmark that Clare was in the city. An extravagantly phrased wish to see her again. Well, she needn’t and wouldn’t, Irene told herself, accede to that. Nor would she assist Clare to realize her foolish desire to return for a moment to that life which long ago, and of her own choice, she had left behind her.
She ran through the letter, puzzling out, as best she could, the carelessly formed words or making instinctive guesses at them.
“…For I am lonely, so lonely…cannot help longing to be with you again, as I have never longed for anything before; and I have wanted many things in my life. . . . You can’t know how in this pale life of mine I am all the time seeing the bright pictures of that other that I once thought I was glad to be free of… It’s like an ache, a pain that never ceases…” Sheets upon thin sheets of it. And ending finally with, “and it’s your fault, ‘Rene dear. At least partly. For I wouldn’t now, perhaps, have this terrible, this wild desire if I hadn’t seen you that time in Chicago…”
Brilliant red patches flamed in Irene Redfield’s warm olive cheeks.
“That time in Chicago.” The words stood out from among the many paragraphs of other words, bringing with them a clear, sharp remembrance, in which even now, after two years, humiliation, resentment, and rage were mingled.
Part 3: Finale
The year was getting on towards its end. October, November had gone. December had come and brought with it a little snow and then a freeze and after that a thaw and some soft pleasant days that had in them a feeling of spring.
It wasn’t, this mild weather, a bit Christmasy, Irene Redfield was thinking, as she turned out of Seventh Avenue into her own street. She didn’t like it to be warm and springy when it should have been cold and crisp, or grey and cloudy as if snow was about to fall. The weather, like people, ought to enter into the spirit of the season. Here the holidays were almost upon them, and the streets through which she had come were streaked with rills of muddy water and the sun shone so warmly that children had taken off their hats and scarfs. It was all as soft, as like April, as possible. The kind of weather for Easter. Certainly not for Christmas.
Though, she admitted, reluctantly, she herself didn’t feel the proper Christmas spirit this year, either. But that couldn’t be helped, it seemed, any more than the weather. She was weary and depressed. And for all her trying, she couldn’t be free of that dull, indefinite misery which with increasing tenaciousness had laid hold of her. The morning’s aimless wandering through the teeming Harlem streets, long after she had ordered the flowers which had been her excuse for setting out, was but another effort to tear herself loose from it.
She went up the cream stone steps, into the house, and down to the kitchen. There were to be people in to tea. But that, she found, after a few words with Sadie and Zulena, need give her no concern. She was thankful. She didn’t want to be bothered. She went upstairs and took off her things and got into bed.
She thought: “Bother those people coming to tea!”
She thought: “If I could only be sure that at bottom it’s just Brazil.”
She thought : “Whatever It is, if I only knew what it was, I could manage it.”
Brian again. Unhappy, restless, withdrawn. And she, who had prided herself on knowing his moods, their causes and their remedies, had found it first unthinkable, and then intolerable, that this, so like and yet so unlike those other spasmodic restlessnesses of his, should be to her incomprehensible and elusive.
He was restless and he was not restless. He was discontented, yet there were times when she felt he was possessed of some intense secret satisfaction, like a cat who had stolen the cream. He was irritable with the boys, especially Junior, for Ted, who seemed to have an uncanny knowledge of his father’s periods of off moods, kept out of his way when possible. They got on his nerves, drove him to violent outbursts of temper, very different from his usual gently sarcastic remarks that constituted his idea of discipline for them. On the other hand, with her he was more than customarily considerate and abstemious. And it had been weeks since she had felt the keen edge of his irony.
He was like a man marking time, waiting. But what was he waiting for? It was extraordinary that, after all these years of accurate perception, she now lacked the talent to discover what that appearance of waiting meant. It was the knowledge that, for all her watching, all her patient study, the reason for his humour still eluded her which filled her with foreboding dread. That guarded reserve of his seemed to her unjust, inconsiderate, and alarming. It was as if he had stepped out beyond her reach into some section, strange and walled, where she could not get at him.
She closed her eyes, thinking what a blessing it would be if she could get a little sleep before the boys came in from school. She couldn’t, of course, though she was so tired, having had, of late, so many sleepless nights. Nights filled with questionings and premonitions.
But she did sleep – several hours.
She wakened to find Brian standing at her bedside looking down at her, an unfathomable expression in his eyes.
She said: “I must have dropped off to sleep,” and watched a slender ghost of his old amused smile pass over his face.
“It’s getting on to four,” he told her, meaning, she knew, that she was going to be late again.
She fought back the quick answer that rose to her lips and said instead: “I’m getting right up. It was good of you to think to call me.” She sat up.
He bowed. “Always the attentive husband, you see.” “Yes indeed. Thank goodness, everything’s ready.” “Except you. Oh, and Clare’s downstairs.”
“Clare ! What a nuisance ! I didn’t ask her. Purposely.”
“I see. Might a mere man ask why? Or is the reason so subtly feminine that it wouldn’t be understood by him?”
A little of his smile had come back.
Irene, who was beginning to shake off some of her depression under his familiar banter, said, almost gaily: “Not at all. It just happens that this party happens to be for Hugh, and that Hugh happens not to care a great deal for Clare; therefore I, who happen to be giving the party, didn’t happen to ask her. Nothing could be simpler. Could it?”
“Nothing. It’s so simple that I can easily see beyond your simple explanation and surmise that Clare, probably, just never happened to pay Hugh the admiring attention that he happens to consider no more than his just due. Simplest thing in the world.”
Irene exclaimed in amazement: “Why, I thought you liked Hugh! You don’t, you can’t, believe anything so idiotic!”
“Well, Hugh does think he’s God, you know.”
“That,” Irene declared, getting out of bed, “is absolutely not true. He thinks ever so much better of himself than that, as you, who know and have read him, ought to be able to guess. If you remember what a low opinion he has of God, you won’t make such a silly mistake.”
She went into the closet for her things and, coming back, hung her frock over the back of a chair and placed her shoes on the floor beside it. Then she sat down before her dressing-table.
Brian didn’t speak. He continued to stand beside the bed, seeming to look at nothing in particular. Certainly not at her. True, his gaze was on her, but in it there was some quality that made her feel that at that moment she was no more to him than a pane of glass through which he stared. At what? She didn’t know, couldn’t guess. And this made her uncomfortable. Piqued her.
She said: “It just happens that Hugh prefers intelligent women.”
Plainly he was startled. “D’you mean that you think Clare is stupid?” he asked, regarding her with lifted eyebrows, which emphasized the disbelief of his voice.
She wiped the cold cream from her face, before she said: “No, I don’t. She isn’t stupid. She’s intelligent enough In a purely feminine way. Eighteenth-century France would have been a marvellous setting for her, or the old South if she hadn’t made the mistake of being born a Negro.”
“I see. Intelligent enough to wear a tight bodice and keep bowing swains whispering compliments and retrieving dropped fans. Rather a pretty picture. I take it, though, as slightly feline in Its Implication.”
*’Well, then, all I can say is that you take it wrongly. Nobody admires Clare more than I do, for the kind of Intelligence she has, as well as for her decorative qualities. But she’s not – She isn’t – She hasn’t – Oh, I can’t explain it. Take Bianca, for example, or, to keep to the race, Felise Freeland. Looks and brains. Real brains that can hold their own with anybody. Clare has got brains of a sort, the kind that are useful too. Acquisitive, you know. But she’d bore a man like Hugh to suicide. Still, I never thought that even Clare would come to a private party to which she hadn’t been asked. But, it’s like her.”
For a minute there was silence. She completed the bright red arch of her full lips. Brian moved towards the door. His hand was on the knob. He said: “I’m sorry, Irene. It’s my fault entirely. She seemed so hurt at being left out that I told her I was sure you’d forgotten and to just come along.”
Irene cried out: “But, Brian, I – ” and stopped, amazed at the fierce anger that had blazed up in her. Brian’s head came round with a jerk. His brows lifted in an odd surprise.
Her voice, she realized, had gone queer. But she had an instinctive feeling that it hadn’t been the whole cause of his attitude. And that little straightening motion of the shoulders. Hadn’t it been like that of a man drawing himself up to receive a blow? Her fright was like a scarlet spear of terror leaping at her heart.
Clare Kendry! So that was it! Impossible. It couldn’t be.
In the mirror before her she saw that he was still regarding her with that air of slight amazement. She dropped her eyes to the jars and bottles on the table and began to fumble among them with hands whose fingers shook slightly.
”Of course,” she said carefully, “I’m glad you did. And in spite of my recent remarks, Clare does add to any party. She’s so easy on the eyes.”
When she looked again, the surprise had gone from his face and the expectancy from his bearing. “Yes,” he agreed. “Well, I guess I’ll run along. One of us ought to be down, I s’pose.”
“You’re right. One of us ought to.” She was surprised that it was in her normal tones she spoke, caught as she was by the heart since that dull indefinite fear had grown suddenly into sharp panic. “I’ll be down before you know it,” she promised.
“All right.” But he still lingered. “You’re quite certain. You don’t mind my asking her? Not awfully, I mean? I see now that I ought to have spoken to you. Trust women to have their reasons for everything.”
She made a little pretence at looking at him, managed a tiny smile, and turned away. Clare! How sickening!
“Yes, don’t they?” she said, striving to keep her voice casual. Within her she felt a hardness from feeling, not absent, but repressed. And that hardness was rising, swelling. Why didn’t he go? Why didn’t he?
He had opened the door at last. “You won’t be long?” he asked, admonished.
She shook her head, unable to speak, for there was a choking in her throat, and the confusion in her mind was like the beating of wings. Behind her she heard the gentle impact of the door as it closed behind him, and knew that he had gone. Down to Clare.
For a long minute she sat in strained stiffness. The face in the mirror vanished from her sight, blotted out by this thing which had so suddenly flashed across her groping mind. Impossible for her to put it immediately into words or give it outline, for, prompted by some impulse of self-protection, she recoiled from exact expression.
She closed her unseeing eyes and clenched her fists. She tried not to cry. But her lips tightened and no effort could check the hot tears of rage and shame that sprang into her eyes and flowed down her cheeks; so she laid her face in her arms and wept silently.
When she was sure that she had done crying, she wiped away the warm remaining tears and got up. After bathing her swollen face in cold, refreshing water and carefully applying a stinging splash of toilet water, she went back to the mirror and regarded herself gravely. Satisfied that there lingered no betray- ing evidence of weeping, she dusted a little powder on her dark-white face and again examined it carefully, and with a kind of ridiculing contempt.
“I do think,” she confided to it, “that you’ve been something – oh, very much – of a damned fool.”
Downstairs the ritual of tea gave her some busy moments, and that, she decided, was a blessing. She wanted no empty spaces of time in which her mind would immediately return to that horror which she had not yet gathered sufficient courage to face. Pouring tea properly and nicely was an occupation that required a kind of well-balanced attention.
In the room beyond, a clock chimed. A single sound. Fifteen minutes past five o’clock. That was all! And yet in the short space of half an hour all of life had changed, lost its colour, its vividness, its whole meaning. No, she reflected, it wasn’t that that had happened. Life about her, apparently, went on exactly as before.
“Oh, Mrs. Runyon. … So nice to see you. . . . Two? . . . Really? . . . How exciting! . . . Yes, I think Tuesday’s all right. . . .”
Yes, life went on precisely as before. It was only she that had changed. Knowing, stumbling on this thing, had changed her. It was as if in a house long dim, a match had been struck, showing ghastly shapes where had been only blurred shadows.
Chatter, chatter, chatter. Someone asked her a question. She glanced up with what she felt was a rigid smile.
“Yes . . . Brian picked it up last winter in Haiti. Terribly weird, isn’t it? … It is rather marvellous in its own hideous way… Practically nothing, I believe. A few cents… ”
Hideous. A great weariness came over her. Even the small exertion of pouring golden tea into thin old cups seemed almost too much for her. She went on pouring. Made repetitions of her smile. Answered questions. Manufactured conversation. She thought: “I feel like the oldest person in the world with the longest stretch of life before me.”
“Josephine Baker? …No. I’ve never seen her… Well, she might have been in Shuffle Along when I saw it, but if she was, I don’t remember her… Oh, but you’re wrong I… I do think Ethel Waters is aw-
There were the familiar little tinkling sounds of spoons striking against frail cups, the soft running sounds of inconsequential talk, punctuated now and then with laughter. In irregular small groups, disin- tegrating, coalescing, striking just the right note of disharmony, disorder in the big room, which Irene had furnished with a sparingness that was almost chaste, moved the guests with that slight familiarity that makes a party a success. On the floor and the walls the sinking sun threw long, fantastic shadows.
So like many other tea-parties she had had. So unlike any of those others. But she mustn’t think yet. Time enough for that after. All the time in the world. She had a second’s flashing knowledge of what those words might portend. Time with Brian. Time without him. It was gone, leaving in its place an almost uncontrollable impulse to laugh, to scream, to hurl things about. She wanted, suddenly, to shock people, to hurt them, to make them notice her, to be aware of her suffering.
”Hello, Dave… Felise… Really your clothes are the despair of half the women in Harlem… How do you do it? …
Lovely, is it Worth or Lanvin? … Oh, a mere Babani. …”
“Merely that,” Felise Freeland acknowledged. “Come out of it, Irene, whatever it is. You look like the second grave-digger”
“Thanks, for the hint, Felise. I’m not feeling quite up to par. The weather, I guess.”
“Buy yourself an expensive new frock, child. It always helps. Any time this child gets the blues, it means money out of Dave’s pocket. How’re those boys of yours?”
The boys! For once she’d forgotten them.
They were, she told Felise, very well. Felise mumbled something about that being awfully nice, and said she’d have to fly, because for a wonder she saw Mrs. Bellew sitting by herself, “and I’ve been trying to get her alone all afternoon. I want her for a party. Isn’t she stunning today?”
Clare was. Irene couldn’t remember ever having seen her look better. She was wearing a superlatively simple cinnamon-brown frock which brought out all her vivid beauty, and a little golden bowl of a hat. Around her neck hung a string of amber beads that would easily have made six or eight like one Irene owned. Yes, she was stunning.
The ripple of talk flowed on. The fire roared. The shadows stretched longer.
Across the room was Hugh. He wasn’t, Irene hoped, being too bored. He seemed as he always did, a bit aloof, a little amused, and somewhat weary. And as usual he was hovering before the book-shelves. But he was not, she noticed, looking at the book he had taken down. Instead, his dull amber eyes were held by something across the room. They were a little scornful. Well, Hugh had never cared for Clare Kendry. For a minute Irene hesitated, then turned her head, though she knew what it was that held Hugh’s gaze. Clare, who had suddenly clouded all her days. Brian, the father of Ted and Junior.
Clare’s ivory face was what It always was, beautiful and caressing. Or maybe today a little masked. Unrevealing. Unaltered and undisturbed by any emotion within or without. Brian’s seemed to Irene to be pitiably bare. Or was it too as it always was? That half-effaced seeking look, did he always have that? Queer, that now she didn’t know, couldn’t recall. Then she saw him smile, and the smile made his face all eager and shining. Impelled by some inner urge of loyalty to herself, she glanced away. But only for a moment. And when she turned towards them again, she thought that the look on his face was the most melancholy and yet the most scoffing that she had ever seen upon it.
In the next quarter of an hour she promised herself to Bianca Wentworth in Sixty-second Street, Jane Tenant at Seventh Avenue and a Hundred and Fiftieth Street, and the Dashields in Brooklyn for dinner all on the same evening and at almost the same hour.
Oh well, what did it matter? She had no thoughts at all now, and all she felt was a great fatigue. Before her tired eyes Clare Kendry was talking to Dave Freeland. Scraps of their conversation, in Clare’s husky voice, floated over to her: “… always admired you… so much about you long ago… everybody says so … no one but you…” And more of the same. The man hung rapt on her words, though he was the husband of Felise Freeland, and the author of novels that revealed a man of perception and a devastating irony. And he fell for such pish-posh ! And all because Clare had a trick of sliding down ivory lids over aston- ishing black eyes and then lifting them suddenly and turning on a caressing smile. Men like Dave Freeland fell for it. And Brian.
Her mental and physical languor receded. Brian. What did it mean? How would it affect her and the boys? The boys! She had a surge of relief. It ebbed, vanished. A feeling of absolute unimportance followed. Actually, she didn’t count. She was, to him, only the mother of his sons. That was all. Alone she was nothing. Worse. An obstacle.
Rage boiled up in her.
There was a slight crash. On the floor at her feet lay the shattered cup. Dark stains dotted the bright rug. Spread. The chatter stopped. Went on. Before her, Zulena gathered up the white fragments.
As from a distance Hugh Wentworth’s dipt voice came to her, though he was, she was aware, somehow miraculously at her side. “Sorry,” he apologized. “Must have pushed you. Clumsy of me. Don’t tell me it’s priceless and irreplaceable.”
It hurt. Dear God! How the thing hurt! But she couldn’t think of that now. Not with Hugh sitting there mumbling apologies and lies. The significance of his words, the power of his discernment, stirred in her a sense of caution. Her pride revolted. Damn Hugh! Something would have to be done about him. Now. She couldn’t, it seemed, help his knowing. It was too late for that. But she could and would keep him from knowing that she knew. She could, she would bear it. She’d have to. There were the boys. Her whole body went taut. In that second she saw that she could bear anything, but only if no one knew that she had anything to bear. It hurt. It frightened her, but she could bear it.
She turned to Hugh. Shook her head. Raised innocent dark eyes to his concerned pale ones. “Oh, no,” she protested, “you didn’t push me. Cross your heart, hope to die, and I’ll tell you how it happened.”
“Did you notice that cup? Well, you’re lucky. It was the ugliest thing that your ancestors, the charming Confederates ever owned. I’ve forgotten how many thousands of years ago it was that Brian’s great- great-grand-uncle owned it. But it has, or had, a good old hoary history. It was brought North by way of the subway. Oh, all right! Be English if you want to and call it the underground. What I’m coming to is the fact that I’ve never figured out a way of getting rid of it until about five minutes ago. I had an
inspiration. I had only to break it, and I was rid of it for ever. So simple! And I’d never thought of it before.”
Hugh nodded and his frosty smile spread over his features. Had she convinced him?
“Still,” she went on with a little laugh that didn’t, she was sure, sound the least bit forced, ”I’m perfectly willing for you to take the blame and admit that you pushed me at the wrong moment. What are friends for, if not to help bear our sins? Brian will certainly be told that it was your fault.
“More tea, Clare? … I haven’t had a minute with you… Yes, it is a nice party… You’ll stay to dinner, I hope… Oh, too bad! … I’ll be alone with the boys… They’ll be sorry. Brian’s got a medical meeting, or something… Nice frock you’re wearing… Thanks… Well, good-bye; see you soon, I hope.”
The clock chimed. One. Two, Three. Four. Five. Six. Was it, could it be, only a little over an hour since she had come down to tea? One little hour.
“Must you go? … Good-bye… Thank you so much… So nice to see you… Yes, Wednesday… My love to Madge… Sorry, but I’m filled up for Tuesday… Oh, really? … Yes… Good-bye… Good-bye…”
It hurt. It hurt like hell. But it didn’t matter, if no one knew. If everything could go on as before. If the boys were safe.
It did hurt.
But it didn’t matter.
But it did matter. It mattered more than anything had ever mattered before.
What bitterness! That the one fear, the one uncertainty, that she had felt, Brian’s ache to go somewhere else, should have dwindled to a childish triviality! And with it the quality of the courage and resolution with which she had met it. From the visions and dangers which she now perceived she shrank away. For them she had no remedy or courage. Desperately she tried to shut out the knowledge from which had risen this turmoil, which she had no power to moderate or still, within her. And half succeeded.
For, she reasoned, what was there, what had there been, to show that she was even half correct in her tormenting notion? Nothing. She had seen nothing, heard nothing. She had no facts or proofs. She was only making herself unutterably wretched by an unfounded suspicion. It had been a case of looking for trouble and finding it in good measure. Merely that.
With this self-assurance that she had no real knowledge, she redoubled her efforts to drive out of her mind the distressing thought of faiths broken and trusts betrayed which every mental vision of Clare, of Brian, brought with them. She could not, she would not, go again through the tearing agony that lay just behind her.
She must, she told herself, be fair. In all their married life she had had no slightest cause to suspect her husband of any infidelity, of any serious flirtation even. If – and she doubted it – he had had his hours of outside erratic conduct, they were unknown to her. Why begin now to assume them? And on nothing more concrete than an idea that had leapt into her mind because he had told her that he had invited a friend, a friend of hers, to a party in his own house. And at a time when she had been, it was likely, more asleep than awake. How could she without anything done or said, or left undone or unsaid, so easily believe him guilty? How be so ready to renounce all confidence in the worth of their life together?
And if, perchance, there were some small something – well, what could it mean? Nothing. There were the boys. There was John Bellew. The thought of these three gave her some slight relief. But she did not look the future in the face. She wanted to feel nothing, to think nothing; simply to believe that it was all silly invention on her part. Yet she could not. Not quite.
Christmas, with its unreality, its hectic rush. Its false gaiety, came and went. Irene was thankful for the confused unrest of the season. Its irksomeness, its crowds, its inane and insincere repetitions of genialities, pushed between her and the contemplation of her growing unhapplness.
She was thankful, too, for the continued absence of Clare, who, John Bellew having returned from a long stay in Canada, had withdrawn to that other life of hers, remote and inaccessible. But beating against the walled prison of Irene’s thoughts was the shunned fancy that, though absent, Clare Kendry was still present, that she was close.
Brian, too, had withdrawn. The house contained his outward self and his belongings. He came and went with his usual noiseless irregularity. He sat across from her at table. He slept in his room next to hers at night. But he was remote and inaccessible. No use pretending that he was happy, that things were the same as they had always been. He wasn’t and they weren’t. However, she assured herself, it needn’t necessarily be because of anything that involved Clare. It was, it must be, another manifestation of the old longing.
But she did wish it were spring, March, so that Clare would be sailing, out of her life and Brian’s. Though she had come almost to believe that there was nothing but generous friendship between those two, she was very tired of Clare Kendry. She wanted to be free of her, and of her furtive comings and goings.